Monday, 25 April 2016

Lets raise a glass of tonic wine and a sponge finger...

  In one of her final appearances Victoria Wood showed off her culinary skills last year on The Comic Relief Bake Off as she attempted to make a tray bake with varying degrees of success but proved to be hilarious. Despite some initial issues with her bakes, she went on to be crowned the queen of cakes.

With the sad and totally unexpected passing of comedian, actress, singer and songwriter, screenwriter and director Victoria Wood this week, its near impossible to truthfully say that no one´s life has  passed without in some way being influenced by her. For many like myself, simply hundreds of her lines have entered into my daily speech.Ever since I started blogging six years ago, rather than taking the first word that came into my head  I have always searched hard and fast for an alternative, something more bizarre that turns a sentence from being mildly amusing into  something that forces the reader to "laugh out loud" Never use a word like biscuit when you can use custard cream or hobnob. She chose every word so carefully to maximise the comic impact.The Thespian was in a restaurant with her once and remarked "Are you not going to finish your pizza, Victoria?"
"I thought I´d pop it in my handbag and toy with it later" was her off the cuff answer.
On Friday 5 August 2011 I included this following paragraph in a blog about cheesecake
......In this case the extra help was a beating on the bottom with a Womans Weekly. Whenever I am stuck for a culinary solution my search engine smacks into Australian Womans Weekly, bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley and my dilemma has become a delicious dessert. I abandoned their suggested base of NICE biscuits and opted for a classic digestive biscuit base.
to which a reader, obviously another massive fan, left the comment
"How on earth did you manage to get the bend me over backwards reference into an article about cheesecake!"

For me it was most often her observations about food that would raise the greatest laugh.
"Never touch prawns; they hang around sewage outlet pipes treading water with their mouths open?"
and of course........   
Is that streaky bacon? Well, it is but it should wipe off...
          What was it Muesli? What was it, muesli? I think so Mrs overall
Yes well, I think muesli is Gods way of making shredded wheat look exciting
I have been meaning to write another cheesecake post for some time now so I thought this was the perfect chance to pay homage to my all time favourite comedian.Cheesecake is a summer favourite and the perfect buttery biscuit base is what it makes it really special, while at the same time making everything around you alright, so just remember the next time you and your partner are having a straight up digestive, try putting the world to rights with a cheesecake.Just remember anything can be solved with a hot cup of tea and a macaroon

It is the brand of biscuit you select that is crucial when making a cheesecake.Obviously many varieties have been tried.Certainly not the Rich Tea,with its austere reputation  of being the unadorned biscuit to accompany you to bed with a mug of Horlicks.It is as basic a biscuit as has ever been devised just like its counterpart, the Spanish Maria.These two  would constitute a very different and totally wrong crumb base as opposed to the more favoured "Plain Digestive".
Don´t get me wrong,I have always had confidence in Maria´s capabilities of producing the optimum Bolo de bolacha.  Smart modern chefs, when it comes to cheesecake, have recently turned their desires to more adorned biscuits such as the Oreo,such fun.The Americans however opt for "Graham crackers"which are hard if not impossible to find this side of the pond.Isn´t it lovely  tho' that we all try to convert our favourite recipes so that others can have a go too.
We (the British) are very much a biscuit nation (probably something to do with a cup of tea being too wet without one!) so the dunking possibilities are endless!
Anyway so, Cheesecake baked or chilled? I am a cold setter.
Baked or cold-set, cheesecakes offer chefs endless opportunities for individual creations.What I have learnt recently is that cheesecake is a perfect example of a speciality that evolved from a practicality.
Migrant tribes in Eastern Europe and Asia devised cheesecakes as a way of using up the surplus of their basically made cheeses.While cheesecakes have now become far more sophisticated, the essential choice is between baked or cold-set.
Here are 3 cold-set cheesecakes that I am sure she would have liked....

RIP Victoria Wood

Strawberry and lemon geranium cheesecake 

Seville orange cheesecake 

Cardamom cheesecake with fresh fig topping

 




Sunday, 17 April 2016

Bolo de Nesperas,the easiest cake in the whole world

Its not often one encounters such luck as finding someone has cut down a fruit tree and left all the fruit on it.This is what happened to me just yesterday.The tree in question was a nespera (loquat / medlar )
Originating in China and Japan, the medlar is produced mainly in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, and is therefore very common in the Algarve. 100 grams contains only 45 calories.and the greater excitement of it is that it is the first fruit to ripen in the spring time.

The taste of the loquat is of a peach mixed with apple. It is a very sensitive fruit that should be eaten immediately after being picked and mostly fresh, to enjoy all the nutrients. It is extremely moisturizing (almost 75% of its composition is water), and rich in potassium, which helps detoxify the body and eliminate liquids.
 It is eaten as a fresh fruit and mixes well with other fruits in fresh fruit salads.I find them quite labour intensive.I  prefer to peel them before eating and then of course the stone or in many cases two has to be removed The fruits are also commonly used to make jam, jelly, and chutney, and are delicious poached in light syrup.My windfall yesterday was of the firmer less mature fruit and therefore more suited to pies tarts and cakes.I settled for a cake as the recipe is so simple,just seven ingredients that every cook has to hand.


Bolo de Nesperas  
500 gr deseeded nesperas in halves,(peeled optional but not necessary)
4 large eggs
200 gr sugar
200 gr flour
1 bsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk
5 tbsp olive oil (extra virgem)

Beat the eggs and the sugar
add flour, baking powder, milk and oil and mix well
fold in the fruit
bake at 180 degrees C for 40 to 45 minutes
check with skewer for doneness

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Sweet corn fritters,can be so much more

lovely little pops of sweetness
 There are few things better than summer sweet corn.... one has recently come to the fore, being able to eat sweetcorn out of season.When Columbus reached Cuba in 1492, the native Indians greeted him with ears of corn, which he claimed were "most tasty whether boiled, roasted or ground into flour". Some believe that Columbus introduced corn to Europe, where the variety of maize grown was largely fed to livestock. To this day, many  Europeans still see it as something fit only for cattle. This prejudice is rather surprising, because sweeter maize varieties (what we call sweetcorn) have an almost addictive succulence.
Well goodbye Columbus and hello technology.Food manufacturers have now found a healthy way to enable us to eat sweetcorn in the heart of winter. I don´t mean the ubiquitous sandwich filling of tuna with tinned sweetcorn and mayo that one makes suffice for a Pret a Manger office lunch on the trot.What I´m talking about is
 the corn on the cob being boiled and packed in sterile conditions after the harvesting.There are no extra additives apart from salt and a very small amount of citric acid to increase the level of antioxidants..There is a wonderful sensation to eating corn, whether it be gnawing the kernels whole off the cob or shaving  off the kernels first and enjoying their tender, juicy sweetness combined with other ingredients.
Ever since I watched Nigel Slater on one of his cookery shows pan frying sweetcorn fritters on the beach I wanted to make them, not without embellishment though. The recipe brought to mind a supper dish my mother used to make for us of scrambled eggs with grated cheddar cheese and chopped tomatoes, to this I added green chillies and self raising flour, which would transform the dish from just scrambled eggs to something of more substance - fritters. I also felt the Slater version just might have been a tad dull and just a little bit plain, but with the added ingredients I made a supper dish to remember.There is no cheaper supper I can remember.Be sure you allow about a third of the total for the ´Knaves of hearts ´that pass the table as they are being made.
NOTHING QUITE beats the taste of golden yellow, crunchy sweet corn, freshly picked, thrown straight in the pan and served immediately, swimming in cholesterol laden butter. If you are health conscious (and decide to act on your knowledge), miss out the butter, it’s still a tasty sweet vegetable and healthy too.The trick to successful sweet corn is picking it at the right time and the speed with which it leaves the plot and arrives on the plate. If this time is minimised to 10 minutes or less, the corn will taste sweeter, softer and more flavoursome than you could ever imagine. - See more at: http://portugalresident.com/sweet-corn-%E2%80%93-50-fresh-cobs-for-10-minutes-work-a-day#sthash.VXeXsd8m.dpuf
NOTHING QUITE beats the taste of golden yellow, crunchy sweet corn, freshly picked, thrown straight in the pan and served immediately, swimming in cholesterol laden butter. If you are health conscious (and decide to act on your knowledge), miss out the butter, it’s still a tasty sweet vegetable and healthy too.The trick to successful sweet corn is picking it at the right time and the speed with which it leaves the plot and arrives on the plate. If this time is minimised to 10 minutes or less, the corn will taste sweeter, softer and more flavoursome than you could ever imagine. - See more at: http://portugalresident.com/sweet-corn-%E2%80%93-50-fresh-cobs-for-10-minutes-work-a-day#sthash.VXeXsd8m.dpuf
NOTHING QUITE beats the taste of golden yellow, crunchy sweet corn, freshly picked, thrown straight in the pan and served immediately, swimming in cholesterol laden butter. If you are health conscious (and decide to act on your knowledge), miss out the butter, it’s still a tasty sweet vegetable and healthy too.The trick to successful sweet corn is picking it at the right time and the speed with which it leaves the plot and arrives on the plate. If this time is minimised to 10 minutes or less, the corn will taste sweeter, softer and more flavoursome than you could ever imagine. - See more at: http://portugalresident.com/sweet-corn-%E2%80%93-50-fresh-cobs-for-10-minutes-work-a-day#sthash.VXeXsd8m.dpuf
f you are health conscious (and decide to act on your knowledge), miss out the butter, it’s still a tasty sweet vegetable and healthy too.The trick to successful sweet corn is picking it at the right time and the speed with which it leaves the plot and arrives on the plate. - See more at: http://portugalresident.com/sweet-corn-%E2%80%93-50-fresh-cobs-for-10-minutes-work-a-day#sthash.WHJQ522w.dp
Sweetcorn fritters with tomato cheese and chilli
Makes 6
2 kernels of fresh not tinned, cooked corn de-kernelled
a few cherry tomatoes
grated cheddar
2 green chillies
leeks / spring onions optional
2 eggs plus two extra egg whites
salt and pepper
1 heaped tbsp self raising flour
Remove the kernels from a couple of large heads of sweetcorn with a large knife. Put them into a mixing bowl with 2 whole eggs, a little salt and pepper and 1 heaped tbsp of self-raising flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff then fold it into the sweetcorn. Melt a little butter in a nonstick frying pan. When the butter sizzles, place large tablespoons of the batter in the pan and leave for a couple of minutes to brown lightly. Flip them over with a palette knife and cook the other side. Lift out, drain on kitchen paper, then eat immediately.  

NOTE: Always use fresh sweetcorn. Tinned corn is too soft, and the necessary crunch will be lost. Don't over-mix the batter, which would result in heavy cakes. For a lighter but more fragile fritter, add another beaten egg white. Cook in butter, not oil. Sweetcorn loves butter more than any other cooking medium.

For another interesting twist try this Indonesian recipe for crab,corn and coriander fritters.The quantities here make about 45 5cm /2in fritters so if you are not catering for a party adjust the quantities accordingly

85g/3oz crab meat
6 ears of fresh sweetcorn
1 medium onion,grated
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 tsp ground coriander
2 cloves garlic,crushed
3eggs,lightly beaten
40g /1.5 oz plain flour
salt and freshly ground szechuan pepper
groundnut oil 

Cut the sweetcorn kernels from the cob with a sharp knife.Mix together all the ingredients,except the oil.Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Heat a spoonful of butter in a frying pan and drop in spoonfuls of the batter.Fry briskly till browned,then turn and cook the other side.Drain the fritters on paper towel and keep warm until all are cooked.Serve immediately.

 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

From bacalhau to beignet with a gentle tap

At first glance you might well be excused for thinking you had got lost and ended up in a scrap yard. Rigid as cement, it looks gray and ghastly and smells even worse, but do not flinch.This is how bacalhau appears on a market stall.First you have to ask for it to be  cut into a useful size for soaking. Soak in cold water, with frequent changes, for 24 - 36 hours. If you have a stream running through your garden so much the better.Chance would be a fine thing. Boil the rinsed fish for 20 - 30 minutes until flakeable. Remove skin and bones and flake the flesh.
So now that you know much of what there is to know about salt cod, it's time you tried to cook with it. See how appetising it becomes once cooked.It is said that there are a thousand recipes for cooking it but there are just as many recipes for what you serve with it.Here I have found a recipe that makes the salt cod into beignets made with sweet potatoes, which I served up with a colourful red pepper tapenade

what a make over from lost cause to stunning appetizer

FOR THE BEIGNETS
450g/1lb bacalhau/salt cod,soaked and rinsed
450g /1lb White fleshed sweet potatoes (use ordinary potatoes if not available)
1 bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
2 eggs
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE RED PEPPER TAPENADE 
2 red peppers
25g/8oz pitted black olives
1tbsp Dijon mustard
55g /2oz anchovy fillets
55g /2oz capers,drained 
150ml /1/4 pint extra virgin olive oil 

First make the tapenade.Skin your red peppers by having roasted them in a hot oven and then put them in a plastic bag to sweat until cool.Having removed the skin of the peppers,chop them up.Place all the ingredients, except the olive oil in a food processor and process together until you have a thick gravelly consistency.Drizzle in the oil slowly as you would when making mayonnaise and blend the tapenade until it holds a grainy,fairly coarse texture.You will have more than you need for this recipe so bottle it in a screw top jar and keep in the refrigerator.
Simmer your soaked cod in fresh water for ten minutes,then drain,remove any skin and bones,and flake with a fork.
Ensure your sweet potatoes are fresh or they will discolour.Peel and boil in salted water until soft-( they take about twice as long as as regular potatoes) then drain and mash them well.
Mix together the fish,mashed potatoes,spring onions and eggs in a food processor.Form the mixture into small bite sized fritters and deep fry in batches in a deep fat fryer until golden brown on both sides (about 6 minutes) serve piping hot with your home made tapenade.